Officials ID airline employee who stole plane at Sea-Tac Airport - KPTV - FOX 12

Officials ID airline employee who stole plane at Sea-Tac Airport

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SEATTLE (KPTV) -

An airline employee stole a plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday and crashed on an island in Puget Sound.  

The man was identified as Richard Russell, a U.S. official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.

Authorities said the man who stole the plane was a 3.5-year Horizon employee and had clearance to be among the aircraft.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office reported the situation was not a terrorist incident. Deputies said they knew who the 29-year-old man is and they described him as suicidal. Investigators said the man acted alone.

The Pierce County sheriff said the man flying the plane is believed to have died. He was also the only suspected death in connection with the crash. 

The situation caused a frenzy of online reports about what was happening at and around the airport.

By around 9:15 p.m. on Friday, Alaska Airlines posted a message on Twitter saying the situation involved a Horizon Air Q400 plane and no passengers were believed to be on the plane at the time.

By 9:30 p.m., Sea-Tac Airport also posted on Twitter that “an airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers.”

19 planes were delayed and 5 canceled. Operations were back to normal by 1 a.m. on Saturday, according to Port of Seattle Operations Mike Eel.

Officials said he did not have a pilot's license.

"The engines start by a series of switches and levers to start the engine, we do not know how he learned to do that," Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck explained during a press conference on Saturday.

Authorities on Saturday said the man used a machine called a pushback tractor to first maneuver the aircraft so he could board and then take off Friday evening. He was presumably killed about an hour later when the aircraft crashed into a small island southwest of Seattle.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office reported the pilot was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash” on Ketron Island at the south end of Puget Sound.

By 9:30 p.m., airport operations were back to normal at Sea-Tac Airport.

The Oregon Air National Guard confirmed two fighter jets took off from Portland International Airport and were heading to Seattle at the time this situation was unfolding.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command said they tracked the airplane south from Seattle-Tacoma and worked to redirect the plane out over the Pacific Ocean when it crashed into Kenton Island. 

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said the military F-15s were not involved in the crash.

When the Horizon Air Q400 plane crashed on Ketron Island last night, it resulted in a small wildfire, which is currently 2 acres, according to the Department of Natural Resources. 

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz released a statement in part: 

"My gratitude goes out to the first responders who have shown incredible dedication and skill in responding to this strange and tragic incident.  My team is working closely with our partner agencies to assist their efforts. Our top priority is suppressing the wildfire and protecting this community from any further damage."
 

The FBI is now investigating the case.

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